Maths failure ‘threatening UK economy’

Britain’s failure to teach mathematics at both school and university level to a high standard has cost the economy £9 million, according to a report published today.

The study, by right-of-centre thinktank Reform, says a “knot of political control” has put off teachers and students from studying subjects like maths and physics.

Shadow education secretary Michael Gove said the report proves exams have become scandalously easy in the subject, and drew attention to the fact students can achieve a C grade by achieving only 20 per cent in the exams.

“Exams lead candidates to solutions instead of requiring independent mathematical reasoning,” he said.

“Traditional algebra and geometry, as well as proper proofs, are no longer so central.”

The report blames lack of leadership in the discipline, government interference and a lack of understanding in modern society about the value of mathematics.

“In today’s Britain it is acceptable to say that you can’t do maths, whereas people would be ashamed to admit they couldn’t read,” said Elizabeth Truss, co-author of the report.

“We need a cultural revolution to transform maths from geek to chic. “

The report claims GCSE exams have become “shallower, easier and less demanding”.

It also points to government interference as a primary cause of teacher demotivation and student boredom.

In an attempt to make the exams more relevant the education authorities let core techniques of logical thinking and problem solving slip, the report continues.

Mr Gove quoted figures showing the number of people doing physics A-levels dropping by over 50 per cent in the last 20 years, and claimed the UK now has less than 3,000 physics undergraduates.

He went on to cast real doubts over the quality of the key stage three tests which 14-year-olds are made to sit.

“Asking students which part of a rider’s anatomy a riding hat protects, or where the energy comes from in a solar-powered mole scarer are hardly rigorous tests of scientific reasoning,” he said.

“In fact they’re hardly anything to do with science at all – they’re just basic tests of English comprehension.”

He promised the Conservatives would cut back on bureaucracy in an effort to raise standards.

Schools minister Jim Knight accepted some of the report’s findings, but defended the difficulty of maths exams.

“We agree that our culture does not value maths and mathematical skill highly enough and we know that employers are increasingly demanding sound numeric knowledge, but let’s be clear: both GCSE and A-level maths are rigorous and challenging qualifications,” he said.

He also questioned Mr Gove’s pessimism concerning the decline in mathematics over the last few years.

“Statistics show the numbers of students taking maths and further maths at A and AS level are increasing. In A Level maths alone there has been a 15.8 per cent rise in uptake since 2004.”